MIAMI — What a night. What a game. What a way Tuesday night for this basketball season to be sent careening, wildly and wonderfully, from a Game 6 of the NBA Finals into the last possible night of the season Thursday.
Heat 103, San Antonio 100.
In overtime. In a game the end was near. Incredible.
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"It was a helluva game,'' San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "It was a helluva game."
"It was by far the best game I've been a part of,'' said LeBron James, who ended with 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
But hold the applause, Heat fans. Now's not the time. These Heat players hugged in celebration when Chris Bosh blocked San Antonio's final, desperate shot. But they'll be the first to admit they haven't earned those cheers just yet.
You don't get anything for losing in seven games that you wouldn't get for losing in six games. And for so much of Tuesday night all this applause could easily have shifted the other way.
This was the game this series didn't have. This one full of heroes on both sides, unbelievable plays for each team, a comeback from 10 points down to start the fourth quarter and a miracle 3-pointer from Ray Allen with 5.2 seconds left to send the game into overtime."I have no clue how we're going to be re-energized,'' Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. "I'm devastated."
That's the kind of emotion this night wrung from everyone. Who can explain what happened? Just wrapping your mind around this will take a while: The Heat went from down five points with 25 seconds left to sending the game into overtime.
Was the key play LeBron losing his headband?
This night needs a name, and the Headband Game is as good as any. He looked lost for three quarters, missing nine of 12 shots, until he had his headband knocked off in a mosh-pit collision under the basket.
From there, he was alive. He blocked Tim Duncan near the rim. He began making shot after shot. He scored 17 points in the fourth quarter — more than the 13 he had to that point.
LeBron, in those moments, did what the best do in any sport. He picked up the Heat, brought them back from those 10 points down and had them tied into the final minute.
And then, in keeping with so many great games, there was a Shakespearian downbeat for LeBron. In the final minute of regulation, LeBron made back-to-back turnovers, letting San Antonio stretch a lead to five points with 25 seconds to go.
Heat fans began filing out. The season was done, Right? Wasn't it? Then LeBron hit a 3-point shot. And Allen hit his 3-point shot to send it into overtime.
"He gave us life,'' LeBron said of Allen.
Fans tried to rush back in the arena. Some began pounding on the doors to get back inside.
You see how this night went? For so long Tuesday, San Antonio was getting the game from their aging star, Tim Duncan, that the Heat needed from James. This added to the game. Duncan scored 25 points in the first half — or more than he'd scored in all but one of the previous 12 games.
He's a Hall of Famer. He'd already won four titles. But, at 37, who knew he still could carry his team like this?For the Heat to win Game 7, they'll have to change their recent history of not having won the next game after their last seven wins.
So if Game 6 kept alive a streak to praise — the Heat haven't lost consecutive games since January — Game 7 brings into question another streak that's equally relevant. They need back-to-back good efforts.
The difference now is the Heat and San Antonio are on equal footing — one foot atop the mountain, the other at the edge of a cliff. That's all the Heat wanted from this night, a series tied at three games apiece.
Don't misunderstand. There was much for Heat fans to enjoy this night. This is the night that gets them to the night they need to play if all their hopes and all their expectations are to come true.
Here is how they did it: Everywhere. With everybody. They didn't get monster offensive games from any of the Big Three. But there were important stanzas where a role player made a big play.
Mario Chalmers, scoreless the previous three first halves, had 14 in this first half. Shane Battier had three 3-point plays, more than he had in any playoff game.
Energy was the issue with the Heat some nights. Not this night. Not before this home crowd. Not even when they were down 10 points entering the fourth quarter.
Everyone knows what the Heat has one the line. Its immediate reputation. Its future legacy. Maybe Erik Spoelstra's job. Probably Bosh's trade option. Certainly LeBron's place in the game, at least in the short term.
But look at the Spurs. Look what they'd gain in winning. A fifth title for Duncan and Popovich would move them up a notch among players and coaches, respectively.
One final celebration of the Spurs' Big Three probably would be one beyond what anyone expected. Maybe it would be their biggest because of their age and who they took down.
It all comes down to a Game 7, something the Heat have good practice with in recent years. It's how they won the Eastern Conference Finals, beating Boston last year and Indiana two weeks ago in the final game.
There is a tomorrow, after all. The sun will come up. And when it does these two teams will mix rest with getting ready for one final game with everything riding on it.
Tuesday night it had a game for the ages. Duncan's play. Allen's shot. The Heat's surviving.
Hold the applause.
Game 7 is coming.